Over a third of Waterloo region food bank users are children. Here's what's being done to help
Thousands of people accessed some kind of emergency food service last year, food bank CEO says
More than 33,000 people in Waterloo region accessed some kind of emergency food service last year, and 36 per cent of those were children under the age of 18, the CEO of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region said.
Wendi Campbell said that in light of the growing need for food bank services, they have once again launched their Full Bellies Happy Hearts program — a summer-long campaign focused on ensuring children who rely on food banks and school nutrition programs have access to healthy food throughout the summer months.
"We're all in a world right now where we're feeling very confident about what's next, our community is getting vaccinated, we're talking about a two-dose summer, talking about all the things that we can start doing again, but for many families in our community they're still struggling to make ends meet, to put food on the table for themselves and their family," Campbell told CBC K-W.
"We really want to focus on the kids right now, on the thousands of children in our community who don't have the opportunity to have the food resources that many families do."
A number of families are still accessing food hampers through our food assistance network, families are accessing community meals programs through our network.- Wendi Campbell, CEO The Food Bank of Waterloo Region
Campbell said The Food Bank works with a number of individuals and families, adding that "a large number of children are part of those families we're working with."
For children who rely on food banks and school nutrition programs, Campbell said the aim is to make sure they still have access to healthy food throughout the summer months.
"A number of families are still accessing food hampers through our food assistance network, families are accessing community meals programs through our network," she said.
Reducing stigma surrounding food insecurity
Addressing the stigma surrounding food insecurity, Campbell had this message: "The reality is that hunger can happen to anyone at any time for such a large variety of reasons including things like sudden job loss or unexpected expenses and medical costs."
"Now we're looking at the pandemic realities of hunger happening and what are the things that are out of people's control in terms of jobs and stability of work right now," Campbell said.
She added that every day, people in Waterloo region are forced to make an unimaginable decision on whether to buy groceries or pay their rent; to pay their bills or to put food on the table.
"That's where our food assistance network can step in and provide those food supports to be able to create a better balance in those budgets as people are making those impossible decisions," Campbell said.
"We've seen a 26 per cent increase in the amount of food that we've had to distribute over the last year so we know that the needs are out there, they exist, they're growing and our job is to do everything we can to meet the needs."
Campbell said the easiest way to support the campaign is to make an online donation.
The Full Bellies Happy Hearts campaign runs from July 1 to Aug. 31, and donations are being matched — up to $20,000 — by the Allan Bush Investment Team.
"Full Bellies Happy Hearts helps us to stock our shelves, to replenish our inventory if we're seeing gaps," Campbell said.
"We want to be able to continue distributing these essential services through the summer months so donations also help us keep our trucks on the road and help to keep the food safe."
National program aims to help children
Meanwhile, chief development and partnerships officer at Food Banks Canada, Tania Little, said during the pandemic, the number of Canadian children facing food insecurity and hunger rose from an estimated 12 per cent to 19 per cent nationally.
Food Banks Canada is aiming to send 150,000 healthy food packs to Food Banks across the country — to ensure that Canadian children have access to healthy food this summer.
"Across Canada, prior to COVID, we were seeing about 1.1 million visits a month," Little told CBC K-W.
"During COVID, we know that there has been a great deal of impact on communities as many, many industries have been impacted and we know that racialized people and Indigenous people have been extraordinarily impacted.
"As we've gone through COVID, we know that being able to get programs like After the Bell allow us to reach a really high proportion of children that are accessing food programs," Little added.